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Marketing online: The dos and don’ts of Facebook

October 27/November 3, 2014; Volume 28/Number 10

By Amanda Hasten

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 12.30.53 PMIn late 2007, Facebook introduced its first 100,000 business pages. The following year, the social network saw its highest jump in active users, doubling from around 50 million to 100 million. The social media platform that only three years earlier was used solely by college students to connect to other students had indeed grown up.

Today, Facebook allows businesses all over the world to economically expand their reach and interact with an infinitely large circle of potential customers. Even though the process of marketing on Facebook is fairly straightforward, finding success in it takes a bit more planning and social media prowess.

Paul Friederichsen, president of the marketing and branding firm BrandBiz, is something of a social media guru in the floor covering industry. If he could give retailers one piece of advice on how to use Facebook effectively, it would be to “adopt a giving attitude.

“To get the most out of it, you have to build relationships,” he said. “It’s like back in the old days when we used to meet face to face. Social media gives us the ability to do that again, but on a larger scale. Begin dialogues, share knowledge, experience and insights. People will respect you for that.”

Christine Whittemore, chief simplifier at Simple Marketing Now, also weighed in on Facebook best practices. “Appreciate the network as an opportunity to humanize your business,” she advised. “Facebook is about social experiences. It’s the company picnic. It’s the town barbeque. The beauty is that your business can come to life; the people within the company can come to life. That’s the power of Facebook.”

In that sense, Facebook marketing is different from traditional methods because it is less about sales and more about interaction. On Facebook, you are building a relationship between your brand, your customers and their friends. And when fostering that relationship, you have to be yourself.

Kelly Cantrell Sisk, store manager, One on One Floor Covering in Hazel Green, Ala., summed it up fairly simply: “Keep it real. Keep it simple. Keep it down to earth. Don’t be too professional. That’s what people respond to.”

Whittemore agreed. “It’s OK to be goofy. Puppies, kittens and babies tend to get a lot of likes.”

To shed light on this idea, out of the last three posts on One on One’s Facebook page, one is about the store’s annual Mohawk Anniversary Sale, one is about breast cancer awareness, and the third is an announcement that it was National Dessert Day, asking followers to name their favorite desserts.

Other posts include fall decorating tips, before and after photos submitted by customers, new product announcements as well as a YouTube video of Sisk and her co-worker, Jaime, dressed up as a carpet pad and carpet roll, respectively, rapping about their anniversary sale.

For Sisk, it is fairly easy to use her own “down-home, Southern-friendly” voice in her posts, simply because she handles her business’ social media herself.

When hiring a social media manager, or a larger agency, Friedrichsen advises not to lose your own voice. “Never relinquish complete control of your social media content,” he warned. “If that’s your name on the door, don’t be stupid. Stay informed and keep your hand in it. You must maintain authenticity. People can pick up on things that aren’t authentic, so develop your own voice.”

Because handling a Facebook page alone can be daunting, and hiring a separate company can threaten your authenticity, there is a happy medium between the two; Whittemore recommends bringing several members of your staff on to contribute to social media.

“You’re involving each of those individuals’ personal networks,” she said, “and you’re also projecting different personalities. Businesses are made of multiple people, so, again, it humanizes your business.”

This strategy also helps with consistency, which is a vital component of a successful Facebook page. If you are doing it yourself, creating a routine is imperative.

“Make it a habit,” Friederichsen advised. “Think of it like an exercise program or a diet. It has to be a part of your daily or weekly routine, and you have to stick with it over time. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.”

Whittemore suggests using Outlook or Google calendars and setting reminders. Figure out when you can feasibly dedicate time, and set it in stone. She also recommends using the Facebook mobile app so you can post and manage it on the go.

But what you are posting is just as important as how often. In social media, content is king. And, specifically in an industry such as floor covering, visual content is most important.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 12.31.34 PM“You’ll typically get a better response to photos, videos and links,” Sisk said. “People are busy. They’re scrolling through their newsfeeds and looking for things that catch their attention. That’s what it comes down to—you have to catch the customer’s eye.”

Another way to cultivate an interactive Facebook page is through contests and giveaways. Within the last year, One on One hosted a hardwood giveaway contest in which they gave away 250 square feet of Mohawk hardwood to one lucky customer. Contestants had to be a fan of One on One’s Facebook page, and had to post photos of the rooms they were looking to redo.

“That went over really well,” Sisk noted. “It was just a giveaway—installation wasn’t included—but they ended up getting us to install it for them, so we got a little extra business, too.”

In addition to content and consistency, there are also more technical tricks you can perform to increase the number of views of your posts. Visibility is now increasingly linked to how much you pay for it. For example, you can boost your posts, which bump them up on your followers’ newsfeeds, and create ads for your page that will appear there. The cost of these services depends on how many people you want to reach, and Facebook gives you an option to create a custom daily budget.

“Facebook knows what it’s doing,” Sisk said. “You just about have to pay to play. I personally don’t pay a whole lot extra for advertising boosts, but every once in a while I’ll pay to boost a particularly interesting or important post.”

These extra costs also allow a business owner to have a better understanding of what works and what does not work. “The beauty of it is that for very little money you can experiment and see what is engaging and what is not,” Whittemore said. “Plus, you’re able to customize in terms of your audience based on geography, gender and interest.”

Ultimately, you must decide whether the costs of upgrading your Facebook visibility are actually aiding your business. Whittemore advises having a goal for your social media presence. If your goal is to build your community, how does that community help you build business?

“Business happens in your space, not on Facebook,” she said. “How does your Facebook content drive people to your website or store? Monitor your website analytics and determine how social media is driving new business.”

At the end of the day, there has to be a balance between commerce and building relationships. Whittemore recommends eight posts that help build your community for every two posts related to sales. “Come up with some pattern of content that your audience will value and engage with,” she advised.

Perhaps most important, in the current economic climate that makes many wary of companies and corporations, social media networks like Facebook can demonstrate your business’s transparency and humanity.

“Some people are wary of social media because it opens yourself up to critique,” Friederichsen said. “The transparency comes from dealing with critique in the same public forum where people unload it. You have to address it promptly and in a sympathetic fashion. They want to see that you’re responsive and that you care.”

Whittemore recommends putting some “rules of conduct” somewhere on your page to protect you from any Internet “trolls” who decide to post unjustified comments or complaints on your page. This allows you to disengage with that person or report abuse if necessary.

But if the complaint is legitimate, Whittemore said, “You have been given the gift of having been told the truth. And if you know the truth, you can do something about it. The beauty of acknowledging and addressing these issues in a public forum is that people can see that you are true to your word.”

Facebook remains the most social of today’s social media platforms. For a business to use it most efficiently, it must remember to relate to people on that social level. Interact, engage, share, educate, have fun and you will inevitably find value in it.